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Agatha Christie and the golden age of detective fiction
Agatha Christie and the golden age of detective fiction

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2.2 The author’s life

The context of Christie’s life is often brought into discussion, especially in connection with this particular novel. She had married Archibald Christie (1889–1962) in 1914, at the age of 24, and subsequently began to write detective fiction to some acclaim, while also taking up various roles in support of the war effort at home. However, 1926 was a turbulent year for Christie, as she discusses to some degree in her autobiography (Christie, 2017). The details are noteworthy here only because they briefly became part of Roger Ackroyd’s reception. The author herself undeniably lived through experiences that year which might have been lifted from the pages of the genre for which she was becoming a figurehead.

Suffering from a nervous breakdown and apparent amnesia following infidelity on the part of her husband, she was widely reported to have disappeared later that year. This prompted both public concern and media sensationalism, in which journalists and amateur sleuths almost seemed to relish the chance to play the role of the detective. The incident still garners renewed press interest occasionally which recalls (and to some degree recycles) the tone of intrigue and scandal from 1926 (see Turner, 2017 and Jordan, 2019). Suffice to say that such coverage was a sign of Christie’s growing celebrity. It therefore cannot be completely divorced from the sense of notoriety beginning to grow out of her willingness to shock, delight and transgress formal boundaries in her fiction, even while maintaining an eminently accessible, conservative literary style. It also reveals something important about the status of detective fiction authors in the 1920s and the relationship between the texts and their readership (an issue to which you will return).

This newspaper illustration features three head and shoulders images of the same woman. The accompanying caption indicates that the one in the centre is ‘Mrs. Agatha Christie as she was last seen’. In that image, her hair curls at the sides of her face, and she wears a dress with a square-cut neckline. In the image on the left, the woman’s hair is pulled back behind her head, and she wears glasses and a plain, dark dress. In the image on the right, she wears a dark, bobbed wig with a heavy fringe, thick-lensed glasses and a coat buttoned tightly at the collar.
Figure 2 In 1926 The Daily News mocked up images of how Christie might have looked in different disguises.